Re: Sorta - Stalinist?
"Private rail isn't a great comparison, as they didn't actually allow for any competition (if I want to go to London, I have to use a Southern train), plus they are required to run the trains throughout the day, even mostly empty."
Not completely true (although I grant you, mostly true).
Grand Central is an open access rail company providing a few additional direct routes to London from Sunderland and Bradford. This is in competition to East Coast. If you want to travel York to London, you have the choice of East Coast or Grand Central (although there are only a few GC trains a day). So, they allow for competition, just there mostly isn't any.